By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen
By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen
Carole Townsend

(Not So) Common Sense
Teachable moments are very often offered up by kids.
By Carole Townsend

It took me a while to learn this, but I believe that one of the best ways to make a lasting impact in this life is to give back. As adults, we accumulate all kinds of things as we go from month to month, year to year:  wealth, knowledge, property, even spouses and children, truth be told.

And yes, children are a wonderful legacy, one of our most lasting and important, but there is more.

I was not born to parents who held to this philosophy; I’d like to think that, had I been, I would have jumped on the bandwagon sooner. What matters, I suppose, is that I am now a firm believer in giving back, and I take every opportunity I can to do just that. Occasionally, despite our best efforts, giving back becomes a challenge. I had such an opportunity earlier this week, and I just had to share it with you all.

Gwinnett County Public Schools has this year opened a fabulous new resource for its students (and, in my opinion, for its parents), called the Junior Achievement Discovery Center. Every 6th and 8th grader in Gwinnett County schools (including children with special needs, I sincerely hope) will get the opportunity to apply for and land a job in BizTown, one of two commercial communities erected inside Discovery High School, complete with beautiful storefronts, grassy areas, benches and streetlights. They will land that job by preparing a resume and interviewing. 

On the days that they get to spend time at the Center, they will actually work that job as part of a team, devise marketing strategies, pay and collect bills, apply for business loans, you name it. They earn a “paycheck,” and they spend their “paycheck,” on things like taxes, insurance and yes, even some shopping.  It’s an amazing life resource, and it is dedicated solely to Gwinnett County students. I believe that the entire community will benefit. I only wish that our children had had the opportunity to experience the JA Discovery Center when they were coming up through GCPS.

You might be wondering where I am going with this story, besides writing a commercial for our impressive school system. I volunteered to work at the Discovery Center earlier this week, as the Center can only function properly with the help of community volunteers. Part of the Gwinnett Medical Center team of volunteers, which staffs the entire center with volunteers twice a year, I showed up bright and early to be assigned my task and to do my part to enlighten the 6th graders to the best of my ability. My husband’s sweet parting words to me as he left for the office that morning still reverberate with me. “Whatever you do, don’t let them assign you to a bank job.” You see, he undertstands my affinity for things mathematical and financial. It was a warning that replayed in my head repeatedly over the hours to follow.

Sure enough, as business assignments were passed out that morning, my business was a bank. Fortunately, a woman much smarter than myself was my partner, so I didn’t panic. Not at first.

To make a long and painful story as brief as possible, our little bank had two CEOs, a CFO and three bank tellers. The tellers were cards, comic relief for such a stressful day for us adults (no, they were the stress; I can admit that now). Job responsibilities were explained, and the children were to take over and run things. We volunteers were there merely for assistance and encouragement. I was amazed at how bright and eager the students were, each in his or her own way. The tellers were of particular interest in our little business, as things turned out.

Just as the doors were to open for the business day, my volunteer partner and I  noticed quite a lot of scrambling going on behind the teller counter. “What’s going on?” we asked the boys. 

“He did it!”

“I did not! He did!”

“Hey lady, can you help me fix this?”

We asked the boys what had happened, and apparently one of them had added a few extra dollars to his and his friends’ bank accounts. They were supposed to have $15 or $16 per account. They each had a million or so dollars, give or take a few. In other words, our little group of bank employees had just embezzled millions under our watchful tutelage. They were in a full-blown panic when they realized that someone might just notice their little transgression when it was their turn to go shopping, or when it came time to settle up accounts.

They did this, I might add, on the heels of a serious group talk about general business ethics.

My partner and I looked at each other, trying not to crack smiles. “Mr. CEO? You need to handle this situation, please,” we told him (CEO was not in on the caper, though one of the tellers tried to pull him in, thereby deflecting guilt. It’s enlightening to see how children behave when they know they’re on the verge of being busted). 

I must say, when the volunteer day was over (I left early, leaving my partner behind to sort out the carnage, I admit that), I was exhausted. Truly, worn out. It’s been a while since I’ve had to juggle 6 or 7 children that age, my bottom-line goal to have no bloodshed or exposed bone at the end of it all. 

I do not know how the matter was ultimately handled, or how the heavy hand of justice fell on our group of enterprising bank tellers. BizTown has no jail or court system. We had already asked, just in case. It does, however, fine its citizens for violating its laws of behavior, and those laws include laws of business ethics. My guess is that the tellers at our prestigious bank were fined just about the same amounts as their bank accounts originally held – legally. Sound a bit harsh?

Let’s hope that next year, the new attraction to BizTown isn’t an Internal Revenue Service. Talk about a harsh life lesson.

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.